Alright y’all, buckle up because this is about to be a packed post 😅
If you have been following me on Instagram, you probably know that I am currently enrolled as a graduate student in online masters courses to get my MA in applied behavior analysis (ABA). To give you a brief backstory, I started pursuing my degree in ABA back in Fall 2015 but was unable to complete my thesis requirement. If I had done so, I could have finished my degree in Summer 2017 but unfortunately, once I moved out of the city and away from campus before my thesis was complete, I lacked so much motivation and the degree went unfinished.
I spent my time off from school still in the field and eventually decided in the middle of 2018 that I knew I was never going to get that darn thesis finished. I was wasting money three times a year to pay for the expensive credit hour out of pocket and realized it was not worth it at all (who would like to blow over $5,000 a year for literally NO REASON?!). At the end of 2018, I completed the paperwork to drop from that institution and I applied to a different ABA program and decided to finish up the degree somewhere else, so here I am!
Unfortunately, I was unable to get any of my credits transferred due to the ever-changing nature of this field so I have been going through the entire program start to finish at this new institution. Because I have the background from fulfilling all my courses elsewhere, I decided I was going to get through this masters program as quickly as possible- as a matter of fact, I decided I was going to get these 10 credits done in under 1 year, and that is EXACTLY what I am doing!
I managed to work out the courses based on pre-requisites so that I could take one semester with 3 courses, one semester with 4 courses, and one semester with 3 courses. What I initially did not realize was how much shorter the summer term was compared to the spring and fall terms. While the spring and fall terms are 16 weeks long, the summer term is only 9 and a half weeks! And lo and behold, that was when I decided I was going to be taking 4 courses (3 credit hours each), equalling out to being a full time student in the summer!
Well, I also work at a school which has an extended school year (ESY) so we have students attending from June through the last week in July and our summer break is three weeks in August. Let me just put all of these components together for you now: I was going to be a full time masters level graduate student and also going to be working full time during a 9 and a half week speed semester!
So, how did I do it? How did I manage to take 4 masters level courses through an online program in a speed semester while working full time hours at my job, have my lowest grade be a 97% and still keep my sanity?! It is possible! That is what I am going to be sharing with you all now:
Time Management and Organization
Knowing how busy I was going to be for those 9.5 weeks, I knew I had to go into the speed semester with a plan and that plan included lots of organization and time management. For starters, my planner is literally my biggest lifeline. I am a huge list maker and absolutely love that feeling of checking items off of a to-do list, which is why I think the planner that I have been using is perfect for me right now. I am a planner fiend and will stop at nothing to try out a new planner (regardless of it being upwards of $70). The planner I have been using for the past couple of years that I love is the Daily and Monthly Day Designer Planner.
I have been loving the layout of this planner. As I said, I am a major list person, and this planner has a spot to write in your to-dos for each day as well as a “Top 3” section for you to put your top priorities. I loved using the Top 3 and the remainder of the To-Dos to write down what assignments I wanted to accomplish that day and to note if any were due that day (typically I only had assignments, quizzes, tests, etc due on the same day each week for each class). This also helped me to divvy up my assignments throughout the week so that I was overloaded with things to get done on the day they were due.
Each day also has a time line from 6:00am until 8:00pm broken down by the half hour (broken down hourly for Saturdays and Sundays) and I love to use that to break down my time so I can see the time I’m at work, the times I have any group calls, etc. This has helped me immensely with time management! This is something I would fill out each morning for that day or even the night before if I had some down time and knew what I had going on the following day. This gave me a visual of how much free time I had so I could be realistic with what I would be able to accomplish that day. While it is always nice to be optimistic about what you are going to accomplish that day, it is more important to be realistic. It can become even more overwhelming when you set too high of goals for that day and you realize at 10pm that there is no way you are going to get everything on your to-do list done. To avoid that, with this specific planner, I recommend filling in the timeline prior to writing out your to-dos for the day. And if there are a few things that you didn’t accomplish that you really wanted to, prioritize them for the next day. If you’re drained for the day and need to hit the hay, transfer those to-dos to the top 3 for the following day before going to sleep. That way you already have an idea of what you want to get done tomorrow!
When you have that many projects, assignments, and just life happening, prioritizing is a must. It is important to know your deadlines for assignments so you know what needs your attention first and foremost. If there is a big project that is due, start working on it ahead of time so you can spread it out and you aren’t going to be trying to cram it in the day it’s due. For those of you that experienced what I would deem a “typical” undergraduate career where you maybe worked part time but classes and homework/study time consumed the majority of your day and partying could easily fit in to your college life, this is your wake up call that graduate classes while working a full time job is NOTHING like that! It’s hard. It’s trying. It’s prioritizing what needs to be done versus what you want to do.
I will be the first to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the life of a college student (although I never really experienced it the way I wanted to until my junior year but that is another story). I scheduled my classes so that I had a little bit of time to sleep in, I would watch Netflix in my apartment during my big gaps in class time, I partied Thursday night-Sunday morning, I missed class because I was too hungover, I pulled all-nighters, and I stayed up well past midnight when I had a 9am class the next morning. I also worked three part time jobs at one point (although for three years it was only 2 part time jobs). But I loved that college life (even though it also sucked at the same time).
But now that I am an “adult” and working a full time job, taking graduate classes is nothing like that undergraduate experience. You need to prioritize what needs to get done. And for me, that was getting my assignments completed on time instead of staying out later with friends, it was staying home to do hours of homework on a Saturday instead of going to a party. It was watching one episode on Netflix and then going to do homework instead of binge watching the entire season. It was also reminding myself that this situation is not forever and once I get through my schooling, I will have so may more opportunities to do what I want! For me, that is part of why I have been pushing myself through this masters- so I can create the life that I want to live! Priorities are HUGE when you are juggling a full time job and a full time course load, but I am here to tell you that it really can be done!
Have a Routine and a Support System
This concept somewhat goes along with my little bit on time management. Because you do have limited time due to working, a routine can really help you make sure that you have that time set aside for your studies. When my courses were in session, I definitely had a routine down pat for myself. I would come home from work, have a little relaxation time with my husband (typically long enough to fit in a 40 minute episode on Netflix) and then would go upstairs into my study space, close the door, and go at my homework until dinner was ready. After sitting down for dinner for another 40 minutes, my husband would start to make a pot of coffee, I would go back upstairs, and be there doing homework until it was time for bed.
This was pretty much each day during the week for me, with the exception of weeks I had less homework to complete so maybe on a day or two I would stay downstairs with my husband longer and only do homework for an hour or so at night.
On weekends I would typically always dedicate the majority of Sundays to finish up assignments since Sunday was the day most of my assignments were due for all my classes. I would typically dedicate some time on Saturdays for homework, but also tried to keep some time open so that we could grocery shop and possibly have a date night.
It was so helpful that my husband was so supportive of me during this time. He definitely picked up the slack for me when I would disappear up into the room to study for hours on end. He would text me what he needed to do to get dinner ready, would bring me up coffee when it was ready, and wouldn’t harass me about not spending enough time with him. He wouldn’t ask twice about if he needed to do the dishes, he would surprise me by straightening up the kitchen a little extra, and he wouldn’t question me rushing to go upstairs to get things done. He listened to me complain on the weeks I had what felt like hundreds of assignments due, he was my shoulder to cry on when the stress got to be too much, and he provided all the extra help that he could. Having that support system in place what so helpful during such a stressful and busy time and can be so beneficial!
Make Time for You
While working full time and taking a full time masters course load, you’re probably thinking, “well there goes all my free time and any chance of having a life until these classes are over”, am I right? Well here’s the thing- it shouldn’t be like that! You need to make time for you, whatever that may look like! Take a long relaxing bath, go see your family, go on a day date somewhere fun, say yes to grabbing a quick drink with a friend. You need to make time for yourself so you can keep your sanity throughout this process! That is saying however, that you take the previous advice that I have already given you in mind. You still need to manage your time and prioritize your assignments, but you should also prioritize some time for yourself. During this speed semester, I went on a 4 day trip to Door County with my in-laws, went to the zoo with friends, went to my family’s Memorial Day party, took an hour long break here and there to watch mindless tv, and had drinks on several occasions on the weekends! A little tip: part of what you need to prioritize throughout this process is yourself.
There is no way that you will find yourself successful and actually retaining the material if you are losing your mind because you are not making yourself and your sanity a priority.
I seriously went into the semester thinking, “Is this going to be possible? Am I crazy for taking on this much? Can I really do this??” and you know what? I did it. It was possible. With dedication, organization, and prioritizing, I was able to take a full course load of masters level classes, work full time, and be successful with it. I hope these tips have been useful for you, whether it be for juggling school and work, or for another area i your life!